From Confusion to Clarity: Mentoring Millennials at an Upside-Down Time

What Millennials Want

We are living at a very difficult and confusing time. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, teleworking – relocating from your place of employment to your home –  has become an accepted practice and is actually now required by some businesses. Moreover, studies and news stories suggest that working from home and using technology to interact virtually with colleagues, customers and clients, may become standard, even after the pandemic.

The future is here, and no one may be feeling this disruption more than Millennials – young adults in the workforce who are on the brink of coming of age professionally.

Many Millennial professionals who must now work from home are feeling isolated, lonely, discouraged and even scared.  The comfort of their regular workplace, a fixed and often-friendly environment where they could work and socialize, no longer exists for many of them. And may never come back.

Equally jarring is the loss that Millennials feel may not be limited to just the absence of face-to-face camaraderie with co-workers, who often become close friends. These young workers also are losing the recurring and “real live” contact with their supervisors and, perhaps more significantly, with their mentors. This article addresses the potential loss of mentorship opportunities for these younger employees at one of the most crucial points of their careers, and suggests ways to sustain and enhance the mentor-mentee relationship during the current Covid-19 disruption and beyond.

Having an effective mentor can be critical for a Millennial. A mentor can substantially increase a young professional’s self-esteem and impact in the workplace,  help with career advancement, make work more enjoyable and rewarding and be a continuing source of comfort in complex and confusing times.

Millennials are different. I’ve learned that first-hand through my coaching of young professionals in this age group. Their career goals often are different than those of generations that have gone before them.

Their principal goals are not to make more money although they would like to achieve this. Instead, Millennial employees who I have coached almost uniformly have aspirational goals that, to them, are at least equal or even more important than making more money. These three goals are:

  1. They want to be trained for their jobs and craft; provided with continuing opportunities to learn and grow; and they want to have committed career mentors, so that they can fulfill their potential.
  1. They want to believe that they are making a difference – not only to their company, firm or organizations, but also to the world at-large, and that they are building lasting relationships based on authenticity and mutual respect.
  1. They want to feel that they are being listened to, that their thoughts and ideas matter, and that they will have a “champion” who is committed to their advancement and well-being.

These three very important goals, with each of their subsets, likely will be advanced if the Millennial employee has a mentor with whom they can communicate on a regular basis. Those who have succeeded in long-term careers know this to be true. Rarely will an employee achieve great success and have a gratifying career without an effective, caring and accessible mentor.

Mentoring Millennials During The Pandemic

Setting the table for the remote relationship

First and foremost, a mentor must communicate to the employee that they are there for them when needed, via Zoom or another videoconference platform, or phone, Facetime or even a safe-distanced visit. The mentor should assure the employee that the mentor-mentee relationship is continuing,  and that if they work together to develop goals and a well-thought out mentoring strategy, their partnership will continue successfully even though in-person meetings may not be possible.

Scheduling regular interactions devoted to mentoring

In addition to ad hoc mentorship “meetings” that may be required, the mentor and the employee should schedule videoconferences, perhaps for 45 minutes, at regular intervals, for example on every Tuesday at 11:00 am.  This will allow a younger professional to feel that he or she is cared for, that they are still part of an important business community and that someone (the mentor) is assisting with and vested in their career development.

What the mentor and the employee should discuss

In these regular mentorship meetings, the mentor should inquire about work assignments, how the person is doing, what problems or barriers they may be encountering, and what additional support, if any, they may need. But of equal importance, the mentor should encourage the person to talk about what he or she is experiencing during the pandemic (eg. “How are you coping with having to work remotely?”) and what the employee may be feeling (eg. How do you feel about what is going on at this time?”).  One way to draw out younger professionals is for the mentor to share how he or she is feeling (eg. “I am feeling isolated from my colleagues. I am sad that I cannot be with you and them. How are you feeling about this?”)

It is critically important that the mentor communicate regularly with the employee during the Covid-19 pandemic to give reassurance that he or she is still a valuable teammate, that the business and the mentor are vitally interested in their emotional and mental states, that the career advancement is still important and that the mentor is here to assist.

This is a difficult and stressful time

Most businesses have suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic and almost all workers have experienced high levels of stress. While effective mentorship may not eliminate all of this, it will go a long way toward helping weather the storm.

Earlier this article identifies the three principal non-monetary goals of Millennials – mentoring and training, believing they are important to their businesses and communities, and feeling that they are valued and listened to. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread and growing teleworking, an effective and conscientious mentor can help Millennials achieve these critical goals.

Now a final word to my fellow mentors. So much depends on us at this time. There are Millennials facing unprecedented career challenges who, more than anything, want to be valued and encouraged. Those of us who have had successful careers can significantly help and support this critically-important population.

We can be arms around their shoulders, even if our arms are virtual.

Either way, we have an important role to play – and our mentoring moment is now!

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If you are interested in coaching from Marc, please contact him by phone or email.